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Walking into the Maternity Department with a visible bump, I was positioned between the other pregnant ladies who sat on the chair with their sprawling legs and swollen ankles, just like me. Soon after, the doctor called me in for an examination. He started turning the pages of my file and said, “The baby is due on 19th of September, so, will you be breastfeeding?” ‘Umm… Yes”, I said with my held hung low – How would I know? On what authority could I make that decision? Breastfeeding is a concept I did not even think about. I had no clue how it works, it was an alien concept all the way!
Breast milk provides an ideal nutrition to the baby. Not just limited to baby’s food, it signifies a women’s expression of love, care and affection to her precious soul that she has nurtured for nine months. It also fulfills the required nutritional and emotional attachment of a baby during the initial phase of life.
Breastfeeding – Benefits Both
Breast milk is the safest and ultimately the best option for satisfying the newborn’s hunger and thirst simultaneously. But, what makes it so special? Breastfeeding not only benefits the baby, but also helps the mother to overcome milk duct blockage and lump formation. Additionally it aids to shed off some of the pregnancy weight by burning the calories. For mothers, it helps the uterus to contract and bleeding to cease more quickly after delivery. It even decreases the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Additionally, it induces lactational amenorrhea (absence or suppression of normal menstrual flow) that helps in child spacing.
Breast milk – A Hallmark Gift to Infants
Babies that are breastfed for the first 6 months exclusively, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhea. Breastfeeding also lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies, thus increasing the immune health to fight off infections.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mother after childbirth. It is thick, yellowish and scanty liquid which is tailored to meet the baby’s nutritional needs. It develops and prepares a newborn’s digestive tract to digest breast milk. It carries various nutrients required for the baby’s growth and development. It is an important source of antibodies for passive immunity of the baby, acquired from the mother. This is particularly important if the baby is premature.
Nutrients in Breast Milk
Breast milk consists mainly of water and the rest of its contents include:
- Millions of immune-boosting white blood cells that protects the baby.
- More than 1,000 proteins and over 200 complex sugars that act as prebiotics feeding ‘good bacteria’ in the baby’s gut. These good bacteria prevent infections entering the bloodstream.
- Enzymes that help absorb iron; and growth factors that support healthy development.
- On the subject of hormones, breast milk contains lots of them! These clever chemical messengers relay between tissues and organs to ensure they work properly. Some help regulate the baby’s appetite and sleep patterns, and even aid the bond between the mother and the baby.
- Vitamins and minerals are present, to support healthy growth and organ function, as well as they aid in building the baby’s teeth and bones.
- Antibodies protect the baby against illnesses and infections.
Weaning: A Complementary Feeding
Weaning is the process to slowly withdraw feeding breast milk to a baby. Ideally, the first step towards weaning the baby is introducing complementary foods. It may include liquids, solids and semi-solids; alongside the breast milk around the age of six months. The weaning process continues until breast milk is completely replaced by other foods and drinks. Also, when a mother is unable to produce ample amount of breast milk for feeding the baby or the milk produced does not completely satisfy the baby’s hunger, then complementary food can be introduced.
ABC’s of Breastfeeding
- A = Awareness. Watching for the baby’s signs of hunger and breastfeeding whenever the baby is hungry, is important. This is ‘on demand’ feeding.
- B = Be patient. Breastfeed as long as the baby wants to nurse each time. Do not hurry your infant through feedings.
- C = Comfort is key. Relax while breastfeeding. Get yourself comfortable with pillows as needed to support your arms, head, and neck and a footrest to support your feet and legs before you begin to breastfeed.
Foundation of a Lifetime Bonding
Breastfeeding gives a baby the best start for healthy life. It is indeed a boon to the duo. However, making a decision on breastfeeding is purely a personal choice. Today, we have reached a point where women stand up against ‘injustice on women’ but, sometimes many fail to understand the pain of mothers who are unable to breastfeed her baby for certain reasons. Creating awareness on this natural boon without being critical about the choices of any women is a baby step for firming this bond of life!